Friday, April 1, 2016

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Special Pleading!

(Ad-Hoc Reasoning, No True Scotsman, Stacking the Deck, Ignoring the Counterevidence, One-Sided Assessment, Slanting, “Double-Standard”)

This fallacy occurs when someone applies standards, principles, or rules to other positions while claiming that their position is exempt from them - without adequately justifying the reasons for their exemption (if there is a viable reason, it's not fallacious). It often occurs when someone is emotionally attached to their beliefs as our minds will subconsciously create ways to continue justifying our beliefs (see cognitive dissonance). 

This fallacy violates the “Principle of Relevant Difference”: two individuals/ideas/actions can be treated different if and only if there is a relevant difference between them. Which is one reason this fallacy is so prevalent: “adequate justification” is subjective and can be argued. What some might deem adequate others might not. Some of the examples below present arguably “justifiable” positions.

This fallacy is easy to spot on others but hard to spot on yourself. If you are accused of special pleading, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Take the time to reconsider your argument and whether or not the accusation is warranted. Remember that the key is whether or not the “relevant difference” justifies the “special treatment.” 
In order to avoid falling for this fallacy, we must continually examine our beliefs honestly and in depth.


Edward Johns claimed to be psychic, but when his 'abilities' were tested under proper scientific conditions, they magically disappeared. Edward explained this saying that one had to have faith in his abilities for them to work.

One might point out that ESP has never been demonstrated under adequate test conditions, therefore ESP is not a genuine phenomenon. Defenders of ESP have attempted to counter this argument by introducing the arbitrary premise that ESP does not work in the presence of skeptics.

"Yes, I do think that all drunk drivers should go to prison, but your honor, he is my son! He is a good boy who just made a mistake!”

“Superstition is a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation -- unless it is astrology.”

In the Thomistic cosmological argument for the existence of God, everything requires a cause. However, proponents of the argument then create a special case where God doesn't need a cause, but they can't say why in any particularly rigorous fashion. (One response to this argument, beyond pointing out the fallacy, would be to point out that nature itself could have existed eternally in some form just as they say God had existed eternally before creating nature. Although used before him, one modern philosopher who has applied this argument is Carl Sagan.)

The seemingly hypocritical nature of some politicians regarding drug use or sexual misdemeanors. Specifically, the typical position is that alcohol and tobacco are acceptable whereas everything else is not, regardless of any scientific evidence about the relative harm of each drug.

That people of the same sex can't marry each other due to traditional definitions of marriage. While LGBTQ people are different from straight people — by virtue of being LGBTQ — this isn't sufficient reasoning to count them as an exception to people who don't believe in the rhetorical statement "Marriage is between one man and one woman."

Biblical morality takes massive amounts of special pleading from Biblical literalists who insist that morality can only come from the Bible. They are very happy to follow some rules (shunning gay men) but not others (selling their daughters into slavery, stoning disobedient children, eschewing shellfish) — even though the Bible, which they claim can be the only source of their moral decision making, is quite silent on what parts of it you can happily ignore.

Some conspiracy theorists believe that all conspiracies are bogus except their favorite one. This does not appear to be special pleading superficially, but if you investigate the logic behind the examined conspiracy theories you will find it inconsistent to believe in only one of them.

In the Virginia personhood law, which grants the zygote the rights of an adult, item 7 states that "nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception." In in vitro fertilization, though, several oocytes are removed from a woman's ovary, bathed in semen and fertilized, let to develop into blastocysts, then selecting the ones that look "healthiest" to implant in the woman's womb. The several blastocysts left over are then treated as medical waste.

Mitt Romney campaigned vehemently against Obamacare, but when reminded (repeatedly) that it was modeled after legislation he himself signed as governor of Massachusetts, he explained that that was totally different because it was a national, not state plan.

Bill and Jill are married. Both Bill and Jill have put in a full day at the office. Their dog, Rover, has knocked over all the plants in one room and has strewn the dirt all over the carpet. When they return, Bill tells Jill that it is her job to clean up after the dog. When she protests, he says that he has put in a full day at the office and is too tired to clean up after the dog.

Jane and Sue share a dorm room.
Jane: "Turn of that stupid stereo, I want to take a nap."
Sue: "Why should I? What are you exhausted or something?"
Jane: "No, I just feel like taking a nap."
Sue: "Well, I feel like playing my stereo."
Jane: "Well, I'm taking my nap. You have to turn your stereo off and that's final."

Mike and Barbara share an apartment.
Mike: "Barbara, you've tracked in mud again."
Barbara: "So? It's not my fault."
Mike: "Sure. I suppose it walked in on its own. You made the mess, so you clean it up."
Barbara: "Why?"
Mike: "We agreed that whoever makes a mess has to clean it up. That is fair."
Barbara: "Well, I'm going to watch TV. If you don't like the mud, then you clean it up."
Mike: "Barbara..."
Barbara: "What? I want to watch the show. I don't want to clean up the mud. Like I said, if it bothers you that much, then you should clean it up."

Person A: Homeopathy uses spiritual imprints of toxins to make people develop a response to them.
Person B: Several laws of physics would have to be violated if homeopathy worked like that.
Person A: It works, but it does so in a way that can’t be tested or known by science.

Harold Camping's predicted a rapture on May 21, 2011. When the rapture didn't happen, Camping eventually said that it did, but that there were special circumstances, namely that it was a spiritual rapture instead of a physical one, but that the world would still end on October 21, 2011.

"I believe that all drunk drivers should lose their license. But even though I was legally intoxicated I shouldn't be punished because I was fine and I can hold my liquor better than others."

"As an atheist, you can't understand God because you're on the outside looking in."

If it is Bill's turn to cook dinner and Bill is very ill, it would not be a case of Special Pleading if Bill asked to be excused from making dinner (this, of course, assumes that Bill does not accept a standard that requires people to cook dinner regardless of the circumstances). In this case Bill is offering a good reason as to why he should be exempt and, most importantly, it would be a good reason for anyone who was ill and not just Bill.

If one employee was a slacker and the other was a very productive worker the boss would be justified in giving only the productive worker a raise. This is because the productive of each is a relevant difference between them.

A professor may claim to be exempt from helping the rest of the faculty move books to the new department office because it would be beneath his dignity. However, this is not a particularly good reason and would hardly justify his exemption (example of “Failed Pleading,” not “Special pleading.”

No comments:

Post a Comment